By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., CSCS, SDL

Following up with my previous article, Gay Games 11, co-hosted by Hong Kong, China and Guadalajara, Mexico, kicked off to a resounding success despite years of uncertainties, instabilities, and just about everything working against them from happening as possible. It was quite a long journey, extended an extra year than what is typical for the quadrennial Gay Games cycle and with the smallest number of participants since Gay Games II in 1986. Yet, the resounding feedback from participants on all ends of the globe show that both Hong Kong and Guadalajara each put on a memorable event that has had a notably positive impact on the LGBTQ+ sports community.

While a lot of work from both host committees, as well as the Federation of Gay Games as a whole went into making Gay Games 11 happen, it had not been without drama. With the Gay Games movement in its entirety facing an existential crisis. Was it worth it for them to put in all the work to make Gay Games 11 happen, despite low participation numbers and last-minute organizational hiccups? Would cancelling the Gay Games for the first time done irreparable damage to the movement, despite them having every excuse and reason to do so?

As shared in the previous article, Gay Games 11 was particularly notable for being the first Gay Games hosted in Asia, which had a very small, practically non-existent LGBTQ+ sports community prior to the 2018 Gay Games in Paris. The whole point of the Hong Kong bid was to inspire the mission of the Gay Games to do what its founder, Tom Waddell sought to achieve since the first conception of it. To “foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBTQ+) throughout the world and to promote respect and understanding, primarily through the sanctioning and oversight of the international quadrennial sport and cultural event known as the “Gay Games.”

When Gay Games was first held, the only LGBTQ+ friendly sports organizations in the world consisted of a small softball league in Los Angeles and the beginnings of what became the International Frontrunners. It was the first Gay Games in 1982 that led to a sudden and massive emergence of LGBTQ+ sports clubs, teams, and organizations that has continued to grow worldwide. Gay Games 11 sought to do exactly this in Asia, and eventually expand that to South and Latin America as well. Since the original bid was awarded and with the changes to co-hosting duties, Gay Games 11 has achieved exactly this, with record levels of participants representing the largest number of countries from the Asian, South, and Central American continents ever for a Gay Games.

I am often asked, “why do we still need events like a Gay Games?” which one could easily answer with the paragraph above. Despite progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in North America and Europe, there is still much work to be done everywhere else. But even more than that, LGBTQ+ sports events and organizations are so much more than just creating a space to play sport safely. They are about developing community, inspiring purpose in pursuing sport and exercise, people are attending because they are fun, culturally unique, a reason to travel, an opportunity to do sport and connect with likeminded LGBTQ+ people who also love sport. It’s more than just “creating a safe space” it’s about being able to participate and expressing the best of who we are through sport. That’s why LGBTQ+ sports events and organizations are thriving. The annual Sin City Classic draws out 10,000+ athletes a year and is growing, organizations like the Pride Cheerleading Association are adding new member teams every year and continuously expanding, teams like SC Janus Cologne are bursting at the seams with how popular they are. We don’t need events like Gay Games, we want events like Gay Games because they offer a cultural and sportive experience that is so unique to the foundation of who we are, we can’t get enough.

That is why, despite all the challenges Gay Games 11 faced, it was important for the event to still take place. After the drama of the pandemic, coupled with the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice and sentiment, our community needed to be reminded of the power of what events like Gay Games represents.

In 2026, the Gay Games will return to its standard format with one host held during the same year as the winter Olympiad. Plus, it is scheduled to take place in the summer months of the Northern hemisphere. While this return to normality will most certainly be welcome by Gay Games athletes, the underlying question is, how will the Federation of the Gay Games as an organization, adapt to fit the current needs of a new generation?

As mentioned above, there is a clear want for LGBTQ+ sporting events, organizations, and teams. Gay Games offers an experience unlike anybody else (and believe me, they’ve tried). What Gay Games offers and represents is truly powerful that every LGBTQ+ person interested in sport should have the opportunity to experience. Yet, despite all of that, the Gay Games still remains one of the biggest secrets in the LGBTQ+ community. How can event, with so much power, legacy, and history still be so unknown? Upon visiting the different cities that have hosted Gay Games, you would have absolutely no idea it even took place. There is no lasting legacy within the community, hardly any memories of it. In fact, I am writing this article in my office on the campus of the university that hosted the majority of events during the 2010 Gay Games. Yet not one person here, students or faculty, is even aware the idea of “Gay Games” exists, let alone that that their university hosted it.

The reality is, for what Gay Games represents and the legacy it has built, it should be the biggest powerhouse in the entire LGBTQ+ sports community and fostering LGBTQ+ sport development all over the world, from underrepresented countries/continents into ensuring support and representation for other large scale LGBTQ+ sports events like Sin City Classic and Eurogames. Attendance statistics at Paris 2018 had roughly 12,000 athletes, while Hong Kong/Guadalajara collectively brought in 6500-7500. Projections for the 2026 Gay Games in Valencia have yet to be released, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t be pushing for 15,000 to 20,000 athletes.

The Sin City Classic alone draws out 10,000 athletes primarily from North America to participate. With Gay Games being international, the potential to draw at least twice that number for a quadrennial event built upon being a major production is more than possible. But that means that both the Federation of the Gay Games and the host committee, Valencia 2026 need to start putting in the work now to spread the word, worldwide about what the Gay Games are, what they represent, and inspire people to get involved now. While 2026 is still a few years away, it comes faster than you think and the four-year period between Gay Games is no time to slouch. If the Gay Games movement is to move beyond mere survival and truly thrive like it has the potential to, it means everybody in that organization stepping up and doing more to ensure that Gay Games is more active than ever to cement it’s legacy and inspire a new generation of LGBTQ+ athletes to get involved.

Photo Credit: David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., CSCS, SDL